Revelation Week 12 – The Great Harlot

We read in chapter 16 about the fall of Babylon, most commentators are going to argue that 17-the beginning of 19 give the detail to that fall.

Begins with an image of a woman

  • Our header tells us that this is a reference to Babylon and we know that in New Testament writings Babylon is a code name for Rome, but lets pretend we don’t have that and read the clues as they come
  • “sits on many waters” – taken from Jeremiah’s judgement on Babylon (Jer 51:13)
    • The Babylonians built a system of canals to disperse water from the Euphrates into the desert areas that aren’t that far from it so the city is referred to as “sitting on many waters.”
  • Jeremiah also describes the nations of the world getting drunk on her wine (Jer. 51:7)
    • What does that mean? Babylon’s temptations are too much to resist. The wealth and power and influence of the empire is too alluring for the nations to avoid it, they join into alliances with her and therefore drink from her cup and share in her grift


The Woman

  • She is in the wilderness – temptation often occurs in the wilderness. Unlike the woman from chapter 12 who goes into the wilderness and remains faithful, this woman has failed her time of testing and cozied up with the beast – we recognize him from Chapter 13
    • Blasphemous names – probably a reference to the various divine titles the emperors took for themselves
  • She’s dressed in purple (the color of wealth and power) and red (the color of brazenness). She is adorned in jewelry. She’s gawdy. She’s appealing in a trashy way. She’s new money that dresses in a way that’s too much because she needs to show off that she can
  • She has a cup filled with abominable things, and she’s drunk on the blood of the saints
    • Dea Roma – “the goddess of Rome,” except Rome isn’t a great goddess, Rome is a gaudy, drunken, prostitute. The symbol of their city isn’t a beautiful goddess, it’s a repulsive drunk whose cup is filled with the blood of her victims
  • Despite that, John is attracted to her. “Astonished” in verse 6 is probably better translated as “I was intrigued” or “captivated” or “entranced,” our friends translating didn’t like the idea of the apostle being intrigued by the prostitute so the translation evolved over time. Which is a shame, because losing that dimension loses some of the power of the image. Its easy to see why she was able to seduce the nations, because even when John can see her as she really is, a part of him is still drawn to her. Even as he’s getting this vision of the victory of the kingdom of God, he’s still drawn to what Babylon has to offer.
    • There is still power in “astonished,” however. When John sees the woman (Babylon, Rome) for what she really is he’s shocked. If we saw Babylon in its true form we’d be shocked, but instead we believe the allusion

Who she and the beast are is spelled out with the rest of the chapter

  • Beast who was, is not, and is to come – Rome has been a direct threat to the faithful before, it isn’t an obvious threat in that moment, but it will be again
  • Seven hills – Rome is built on seven hills
  • Seven kings – that one’s tougher, Rome obviously ended up with more than seven emperors
    • Tradition held they had seven kings before the rise of the republic and maybe that’s the reference
    • Probably symbolic – the five represent the ones who have already reigned, one is reigning now, one will have a short reign and will be followed by the last figure of evil, the anti-christ
  • Ten Kings – give over their power to beast for the final battle we’ve already talked about
  • Very end – the woman is the great city who rules over the kings of the earth – if we haven’t figured it out by then we’re told explicitly 

Verse 15 – she is eventually brought down by the people who have been seduced by her. When she stops pleasing them they’ll turn on her.

  • The world accepts a super power as long as its helping them but deep down they resent that it exists and they’re looking for a chance to bring it down
    • Britain invited the UN into Palestine in the 40s to confirm that they needed to stay to keep peace and the world ended up voting for them to leave

Big idea – Babylon is seductive. If you don’t see her for what she really is you can be seduced by her. Even if you do see her for what she is she’s still tempting. But what she’s offering and who she’s allied with are on the road to destruction and if you get caught up with her you’ll go down that road too

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